Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Andy Reid and the Eagles

In my mind, this week (weak) sealed it.  While my confidence was certainly wavering after the past 22 games of The Michael Vick Era, for some reason I was still clinging to some hope that Andy would “do better” after he left us with that hollow line week after week after week.

As I really sit down and think about what I want to write about the man, Andy Reid, from his coaching abilities and disabilities to his ridiculous relationship with the relentlessly passionate Philadelphia Eagles fan base (and of course the rabid media), it's hard to even know where to begin. The relationship has gone back so long. Perhaps, that is why I was always quick to give him the benefit of the doubt. He took us to sustained goodness (never got the greatness part) and every season was filled with hopeful potential.

This season, and last season for that matter, is no different as far as the aspirations of the football team and the city. Basically, even if the Eagles get to the Super Bowl that would not be enough; this city would have plenty to complain about if our team once again failed to win the big one under Reid. Well, while they are certainly not out of it, its hard to imagine this season’s record not ending up somewhere around last season’s record given the brutal schedule the Eagles are saddled with this year. Eight and Eight. Woefully short of expectations for a team that keeps throwing around absurd talk before seasons because “they look good on paper.”

Mike Vick’s mention that this team had what it takes to be a dynasty and Vince Young’s infamous Dream Team comment are laughable. This team can’t get out of their own way enough to win games with a 10 point lead and less than 6 minutes to go with the ball.  At this point, I’m of the opinion that Andy Reid is the man that is standing in their way.

It didn’t used to be this way with Andy. He used to surround himself with top notch personnel, many of whom have gone on to bigger and sometimes better things. John Harbaugh, Brad Childress, Ron Rivera, and Steve Spagnuolo are just a few that have gone on to head coaching jobs. Things really haven’t been the same since the great Jim Johnson passed.

Sean McDermott was a logical successor to Johnson, but Reid was quick to axe McDermott which meant Andy was on the hook to find the Eagles next defensive coordinator.  The decision he made will ultimately lead to his demise as the head ball coach of the Eagles.

For years Andy has fancied himself the smartest guy in the room. For a little while there, he might have been. It has become evident over the past few years that he no longer is. In 2010, he traded up in the first round and I remember everybody thinking that Earl Thomas was heading to Philadelphia. Nope, Andy saw something in Brandon Graham that apparently nobody else did. He picked the defensive end Graham 13th overall and he has 3.5 sacks in 3 years. Jason Pierre-Paul has 26.5 sacks and went 15th to division competitor and defending Super Bowl champ New York Giants. Earl Thomas was second team all NFL at safety for the Seahawks last year. The Eagles haven’t had a reliable safety since Brian Dawkins left town 3 years ago.

In 2011 he selected a 26 year-old Canadian offensive lineman named Danny Watkins in the first round. Watkins started 12 games last year but has been an on-again-off-again starter for a bottom 5 in the league offensive line unit that has been devastated by injuries this year. Nobody saw this pick coming at the time. Andy thinks he knows something that nobody else does, but it’s turning out that he doesn’t.

It’s safe to say these high picks weren’t working out like some draft steals he was able to pull off in Brian Westbrook and Trent Cole. Somewhere along the way, Andy lost his mojo.

Also in 2011, Andy made the decision to hire his own offensive line coach, Juan Castillo, as the architect of the Eagles defense. The audacity of this decision is unparalleled. The decision to hire Castillo was disrespectful. It was disrespectful to legitimately experienced candidates who he decided weren’t good enough for his team. It was disrespectful to his owner, Jeff Lurie, who finally came out publicly to say he was confused with the move to appoint Castillo. It was disrespectful to a defense that now had to take orders from a virtual novice when it came to game planning and scheming from the defensive side of the football. This isn’t Friday night in Texas. Everybody in the NFL is the smartest in the world at what they do. What made Reid think the Castillo decision could ever work? Arrogance is the first word that comes to my mind as the answer to that question.

The Eagles fell apart almost immediately last season. It was a combination of things that all reflected poorly upon Reid that contributed to a team that began the season 4-8. A big waving finger was pointing at Juan Castillo as a main reason for the early season struggles. Nevertheless, Andy trotted Juan out as the defensive coordinator again for the 2012 season. Turnovers and discipline were the major issues of a team that was 3-3 entering the bye week. It certainly wasn’t a defense that kept the team in every game, save one, while dealing with an offense that was 31st in the league in points and continually placed it in a hole by committing a mind-boggling amount of turnovers.

After two straight blown 4th quarter leads Andy broke. He needed a scapegoat. He needed a pressure release. The media was ready to eat him alive so he created a diversion in hopes of saving his team, his season, and his job. He fired Juan Castillo and brought in a man with some experience in Todd Boles.

Now, the Eagles came off the bye week at home against the Atlanta Falcons. Nobody is running away with the Wild Cards in the NFC this year so this was not exactly a make or break game, but for every Eagles fan’s sanity, we needed to see the team come out with a much better sense of purpose and urgency then they had been playing with. The exact opposite happened. Matt Ryan and the Falcons picked apart the Eagles defense so bad in the first half (4 scores in 4 possesions) that it elicited ludicrous comments from my friends like, “It looks like they’re taking a dive for Juan.”

It was that bad this past Sunday against the unbeaten Atlanta Falcons. At this point, Reid is throwing darts at the wall trying to come up with something to save his job. It turns out Mike Vick had a magical 10 games in 2010 and never was before and never has been since that caliber quarterback. It turns out Nnamdi Asomugha is just above being a bum (ask Julio Jones if Nnamdi is still considered the best press corner in the league?). It turns out wide 9s can’t register a sack with two maniacs at defensive end. It turns out that having a top three running back doesn’t mean your offense is any good.  Right now Andy is like George Clooney clinging to life in the 25 foot waves in The Perfect Storm. You know this ship is going down, you’re just not sure when yet. (This has the be the first and last Clooney-Reid comparison ever made.)

So after all of these gut-wrenching games that Eagles fans have to endure, Reid gets his chance to explain himself. He gets his chance to break down what the Eagles did wrong, and why it happened, and what he’s going to do to fix it. Except that never happens. Every week the slimming down walrus lookalike saunters up to the podium as if it’s the guillotine. Answering to the media and the fans is clearly an obligation to Andy Reid that he feels he is above.

You’d think after more than a decade in Philadelphia he’d realize that his demeanor is not exactly going to endear himself to the blue-collar fans of the Philadelphia Eagles. After any loss, every Andy Reid press conference goes the exact same way.

“I’ve got to do a better job of putting players in position to make plays.”

*Deep sigh*

“In hindsight, that may have been a better option.”

*Throat clear, a look of disdain, and another deep sigh*

“I’ve got to do better, we’ve got to do better.”

Normally, I wouldn’t mind these answers so much. It’s standard boilerplate NFL coach talk for basically telling you to, "Go f*&@ yourself, I'm busy and this is taking up my time." They all do it. But what really grinds my gears is that every single week we see Andy Reid’s football teams come out and make the same mental mistakes without fail.

Somebody is always good for a personal foul not having to do with an actual play.

Somebody is always good for a fumble at the worst possible time.

Andy is good for an ill-advised challenge once every two games.

For 13 years now it seems, Andy has screwed up calling timeouts. The Eagles have to have the highest rate of calling a time out in the first 5 minutes of a half of any team in the league. Why not instruct Vick to take a 5 yard penalty on 1st and 10 with 12 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter instead of wasting a time out? Time-out calling seems like common sense, but for years Andy has screwed up this seemingly simple detail of being a head coach.

All of these things I mention are related directly to coaching. They are not things affected by talent. They aren’t schemes and plays. They are simply a reflection of a coach who is not getting it done. That’s why I’m tired of the false promises of a coach who’s days are numbered in the City of Brotherly Love.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Sell! Sell! Sell! - The Trade Deadline 2012

It’s hard to even know where to start when you’re writing about the Philadelphia Phillies these days. Last week they gave us a glimmer of hope after knocking around that minor league bullpen the Milwaukee Brewers have put together. It was the first 3 game sweep of the season for the Phillies and every fan in town was geared up for a showdown in Atlanta with the Wild Card leading Braves. If the Phillies swept the Braves, they would have been 6 games back of the Wild Card and riding a ton of momentum. If they won 2 out of 3, they would still be 8 games back but at least momentum would still be on their side. And when you’re more than 10 games back of a playoff spot, momentum is what you live for.

Well, 3 games and 4 runs later and the Phillies officially became sellers at the trade deadline for the first time in over half a decade. The Braves swept the weekend series and have now beaten the Phillies 6 games in a row. What did this mean for the Phillies and their chances this season?

Ruben Amaro finally threw up the white flag.

Shane Victorino. Gone to the Dodgers.

Hunter Pence. Gone to the Giants.

Cliff Lee. Staying with the Phillies. (Thankfully) Trading Cliff would have been a panic move, unless it put Josh Hamilton in red pinstripes.

The money printing factory that is the Philadelphia Phillies finally decided to scale back a bit and unloaded two-thirds of their starting outfield. I understand the moves Ruben made with Shane and Hunter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I agree with them.

For at least a month now, it was thought that Shane Victorino would be traded some time before the deadline. I had resigned myself to this fact. Shane has been part of the core group of players that brought this team to prominence. Since Gary Maddox roamed the gaps in Veteran’s Stadium, nobody patrolled centerfield better than Shane Victorino. He had a cannon for an arm and routinely threw runners out at the plate. When the Phillies made their World Series run in 2008 he played an integral role. In game 2 of the 2008 NLDS against CC Sabathia and the Brewers, Shane swatted a grand slam into left field sending Citizen’s Bank Park into a frenzied state. In the Matt Stairs game against the Dodgers in the 2008 NLCS, it was Shane who made it possible for Stairs to hit the go ahead home run. Shane tied it late in the game with a 2 run home run.

Shane was part of a group of 5 players that started EVERY postseason game the Phillies have played for the last 5 years, that’s not something a lot of teams accomplish (Howard, Utley, Rollins, and Ruiz being the others). He was always energetic and maybe sometimes a little too jittery on the field but that’s what made Shane the ball player he is. He was a fan favorite for his unique personality, and he made shaving cream pies to the face for any player who happened to come up big that night the norm. Some nights it was Shane getting that pie in the face. He will be missed.

Shane getting traded was an obvious business decision, and a prudent one at that. I do agree with this move, and hopefully the pieces we got back in the trade can work out. Josh Lindblom, 25, should be able to add some stability to the crumbling foundation that is the Phillies bullpen. Ethan Martin is a right handed pitcher picked in the first round by the Dodgers who is still working his way through the minor leagues. Time will tell.

Shane will enter free agency at the end of this season, and the bottom line is he just was not doing much at the plate. He will be due a multi-year contract worth probably close to 8 figures a year. Moving him now allowed the Phillies to get something in return and saved them from looking like the bad guys when they did not offer Shane a contract, or a contract anywhere near what the 2 time All-Star will warrant in the free agency market. It will also allow for players like John Mayberry (Editor’s Note: Mayberry really has had the chance all season, he’s hitting .230) and Domonic Brown to get a chance to develop at the Major League level, and those guys don’t carry the price tag that Shane would.

Hunter Pence is a different story altogether. Pence certainly did not carry the history with the team that Victorinio did, but at this point in his career he’s a better ball player. Pence is still in contract arbitration years so he probably will make close to the same amount next year as he did this year (10,400,000). The Phillies moved him to free up about that amount of money from their payroll next year, but I am not standing by this move. We got a backup outfielder in Nate Scheirholtz in return (the guys has 5 home runs this year, but 2 were against the Phillies in the same game!). We also got back two minor league prospects, a catcher, Tommy Joseph, and a wet behind the ears pitcher in Seth Rosin. In other words, the Phillies didn’t get back anybody who will have much of an impact on their team for a guy who has had, and would have had in the future, a major impact on their team.

Sure Pence does some goofy things and just constantly looks awkward, be it at the plate, going after a fly ball, or throwing a guy out at home with what looks like a discuss throw, but he has been their clear cut second best player all season long. People like to point out that his batting average and RBIs are down this year. Well, I’m of the opinion that if he’s batting 5th or 6th all year behind Howard and Utley those numbers could and should be much better. For the first half of the season, it was Pence and Chooch and praying for somebody different to come through that night. It didn’t happen often enough, but that wasn’t Hunter Pence’s fault.

I know that trading Pence basically does the same thing that trading Victorino did. It will free up some money to sign different guys this offseason, and it will give the current guys the Phillies have a chance to showcase some of their talents.

There are two things about the Pence trade that I’m sticking on and for these reasons; I feel it’s a bad trade. 1. The Phillies are in desperate need of a third baseman that can do some damage at the plate AND make a play at the hot corner. Placido Polanco was washed up when we got him, and that was 3 years ago. Why did we not get the Giants best third base prospect for a guy who is clearly going to help the Giants immediately? 2. We are not going to sign anybody next year (be it for the same or less money) that is better than Hunter Pence. So what was the point of giving him up if we didn’t get anything we needed in return? I’m not so sure about this one Ruben.. I hope you know exactly what you’re doing.

It’s funny to think that if the Phillies had won those 3 games in Atlanta rather than losing them that most likely none of this would have happened. Maybe Victorino still gets sent packing, but if the Phillies were 6 games out of the Wild Card when they took on the Nationals Tuesday night you can bet your ass Hunter Pence would have been playing right field. Pence really had a great quote on his way out of town yesterday, it summed up what everybody basically already knew about this season, but it is nice to hear it from the player’s perspective.

"I don't think anyone really anticipated the season that's gone on. It was the perfect storm of injuries and things didn't go right for us, so that's the way the business of the game is and you have to understand that.”

That’s for damn sure Hunter.

* * *

It only took Cliff Lee until the last day of July to get his second win of the season! He pitched 7 innings of shutout ball and the Phillies beat the Nats 8-0 Tuesday night. I cracked a smile for this game, but that’s about it.

This has nothing to do with anything but you should still click it.

Monday, July 9, 2012

2012 - Philadelphia Phillies - Mid Season Report - It's Ugly - Part 2

            Okay, welcome to Part 2 of the 2012 Philadelphia Phillies Mid Season Report, if you missed part 1 – click here.  Let’s dig in.

            So what are the numbers saying you ask? Let’s do a quick comparison of last year at the All-Star Break.  Their rank in the National League is in parentheses, out of 16. Note the Phillies played 91 games in the first half last year.


2011:      Avg.         HR          R               SLG             OPS           
         .250 (10)      78 (9)     4.0 (9)       .382 (9)       .705 (8)

2012:      Avg.         HR           R              SLG              OPS
         .262 (4)        84 (9)     4.2 (7)       .403 (9)       .719 (9)

            So by the numbers say they are hitting the ball a bit better than they were last year, but the record has fallen off a cliff.  What are the reasons for this? There’s plenty. We’ll start with the things that you can’t really control.

            I can’t say that this is thee biggest thing, but certainly the story of the first half other than dreadful play was injuries to arguably the Phillies three best players.  We’ve discussed ad nausea in posts past, but it’s worth mentioning that the Phillies expected Chase Utley to be ready to go for the beginning of the season. He’s played 11 games. Ryan Howard was predicted back between the start of the season and June for his original diagnosis. Optimists hoped for Mid-May. He came back 3 games ago. Roy Halladay hadn’t gone on the DL since 2009 (Never for the Phillies). He’s started 11 games and was not his usual dominant self when he did start, as it seemed he was affected by the shoulder strain that landed him on the DL in late May. Those three on the shelf wasn’t good for anybody this year. 

            Other things that were maybe expected but did not occur during the first half are listed as follows. Expected John Mayberry to have a breakout year rather than fulfill his destiny as a dude who probably shouldn’t play everyday. Expected the trio of Laynce Nix, Ty Wiggonton, and Jim Thome (as a Ryan Howard replacement) to be better than a trio of Laynce Nix, Ty Wiggonton, and Jim Thome. Expected Jimmy Rollins to finally take his calling as a leadoff hitter and take a pitch or two. Expected Jose Contrares to become the oldest guy to pitch an 8th inning at age 51. Expected Shane Victorino to be some semblance of his offensive self last year. Expected Chad Qualls to be competent. Expected Antonio Bastardo to throw strikes that didn’t clang off the ivy in centerfield when he needed to. Expected Freddy Galvis to get suspended for 50 games for performance enhancing drugs. Expected Cliff Lee to be worth $21. 5 million this year.

            Maybe not all of that was expected, maybe it was. Either way the Phillies are not getting the production from most of their players that they expected this year. Let’s give grades to some of the Phillies more prominent players shall we? We’ll start with the position players, in no particular order.

This clip is a must watch before you read furhter - An Airing of Grievances!

            Jimmy Rollins – C +

I’ll say this about Jimmy. He doesn’t change. You can say that’s a good thing because he’s always been an above average player, but despite my letter pleading with him to re-sign, I have to say I’m a bit fed up with the shtick. He started slow and continues to play great defense, maybe not getting every ball like he used to, but certainly making most of the plays you think he should. His offense is what bothers me though. The Phillies, as an entire offense, were supposed to change their approach at the plate this year after all of the pathetic at bats led to their demise in the NLDS last year. Maybe the team is just following their leadoff man, because he just continues to swing early, and swing at bad pitches. I guess it’s just nothing but habit for Jimmy, but man it’d be nice to see him walk more, to let that 2-0 breaking ball in the dirt alone, just be a leadoff man. He did have a 2007 Jimmy-like June where he racked up hits and runs, but as soon as the calendar flipped to July, Jimmy forgot how to hit. He’s down to .259 and hasn’t run out a ground ball (there’s been plenty of weak ones rolled over to the right side) since May.

            Shane Victorino – D +

Shane is passing, barely. He is playing stellar defense in center field and he has made several impressive throws to gun runners down at 2nd and home. His stats aren’t what you’d call god awful, but he is probably the poster boy for the Phillies not doing the little things right to win ball games. His head never seems to be in the game. He’s constantly making me say things like, “What the hell is Victorino doing out there?” and “(*&@!$ &*(&$#@ @(*#@&;$ Shane.” He’s a free agent this year and is obviously just having a down year, but he has certainly cost himself some dough with his performance thus far this year.

            Hunter Pence – B +

A lot of people like to badmouth Hunter Pence. I’m not one of them. First things first you have to understand that Pence was supposed to carry more weight on this team than anybody was capable of (try filling Ryan Howard’s shoes, and making up for some of Chase Utley while you’re at it), let alone a guy who’s never hit more than 25 home runs in a season. Pence has 16 long balls and is on pace for a career high, but if you ask the average fan what they think of Pence’s performance so far this year; they’d tell you it hasn’t been good enough. He’s a .292 career hitter and he’s hitting .285. He’s tied for third in the National League with 58 runs scored. Maybe he hasn’t been the most clutch but he has certainly come through just as much as anybody else on the team except THE MAN behind the plate. My main issues with Pence are his shaky fielding of the baseball, he seems to get too excited at times and rushes it. And speaking of too excited, this dude just loves the first-pitch. He loves it too much for me. I swear I would like it if he seemed to get more hits on it, but I just feel like he’s not doing himself justice by swinging at that first pitch as often as he does.

            Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz – A +

CHOOOOOOOOOOOOOCCCCCCCHHHHHH!!!!!! It’s fun to say right? We’ve been saying it a lot all year. What can you say about the first half that Carlos Ruiz had? I keep saying to myself he can’t stay above .350 this long, but every damn game it seems like Chooch is tearing the cover off the ball, blooping in a jam job double, hitting game-tying home runs, and basically being everything for this ball club.  Chooch has added quite a bit of power to his repetoire this year and he’s seen some time in the cleanup role because of it. He has a career high 13 home runs and is 4th in the National League in batting average, slugging percentage, and OPS. He leads catchers in every major offensive category except walks and stolen bases, although he does have 3 swipes this year. Chooch was selected to his first All-Star game and is as deserving as anybody in the game to be on the squad.

I’ll give brief descriptions of a few more position players as I see fit.

Juan Pierre – He’s doing exactly what he’s done for his whole career. He hits for average and no power and steals bags when he gets on. Just a stop gap – think Kenny Lofton in the mid- 2000s.

Placido Polanco – Not good enough to mention anything decent. Not bad enough to rip him.

Ty Wiggonton – He can mash the ball every now and then but is probably better off DHing.

Jim Thome – The exact same sentence I wrote for Ty Wiggonton but take each situation up 10 fold. Jim is now an Oriole swinging the lumber on a more consistent basis as a DH.

John Mayberry – Great expecatitions unfulfilled.

Freddy Galvis – PEDs?!? Really. C’mon son!

Dom Brown – Where you at man?

Now on to this sorry group of hurlers.

            Cole Hamels – B +

Cole has been the most consistent starter on the team this year, made the All-Star team, racked up 11, sorry 10 wins (Papelbon blew that one last week), but still hasn’t really been the pitcher he was last year. He had an awful stretch from late May to early June where he gave up 18 runs in 26.2 innings over 4 starts. His ERA is 3.20 which is respectable, but a few ticks higher than the entire year last year. He has been dominant in most starts, but also capable of giving up a long ball or two. He’s 4th in strikeouts and 10th in WHIP, after finishing first last year.  Cole is the subject of swirling trade rumors. He will be getting a 7 figure contract from some team in the next 6 months, here’s to hoping its with the only team he’s ever played for.

            Cliff Lee – D

Cliff Lee is getting paid $21.5 million this year. If he equals his win total from the first half in the second half that will be a cool $10.75 million earned per win. I know all the talk about how he got no run support early in the season caused this, I mean literally none, he pitched 10 shut out innings in a game and got a no-decision. But when June rolled around and it turned into “enough’s enough with this winless bullsh*t Cliff” he started to pitch worse. He had his share of blown leads, tie games he left, and terrible run support throughout the season. But the bottom line is: Cliff Lee just hasn’t been that great this season. His ERA is way up at 3.98, which he just got under 4 after recording his very first win of the season last week (winky face). His WHIP is way up at 1.20 (up from 1.03 last season). What’s the reason for that? He does not have the control he seemed to have in seasons past. He’s racking up walks and he misses too often in the middle of the plate as evidenced by opponents batting a whopping .262 off of him. The entire NL’s average is .254 so you better believe a guy worth $20 million + a season should be holding batter's to an average less than the rest of the league combined. All I have to say is, C’mon Cliff! You are better than this (Man, I hope anyway)!

            JoKle BlanRick – C

These f**kin’ guys (Kyle Kendrick and Joe Blanton). You always expect the worst, at least I do, but then they’ll go out and have a completely brilliant performance. Kendrick pitched 7 shut out innings against the Braves on Sunday, but gave up 5 runs in the first inning 2 starts back. Joe Blanton has given up more homers than you would think is humanly possible. But he has 2 complete games and one was a shutout to help him to get to 7 wins in the first half. They are completely hit or miss. It’ll be nice when we can bounce Kendrick or Blanton from the rotation once Doc comes back. Depends who’s more terrible at the time. If it was a straight ERA comparison the nod would go to KK, 4.89 to 4.98. A real barn-burner!!

            Antonio Bastardo – D

This guy has lost it. He went from being just about the most dominant set-up guy in the game through 4/5ths of the season last year to the guy who gives you a sick feeling in your stomach when Charlie holds up his left hand to go out and change pitchers. When I say lost it I mean it. He’s lost all confidence. He looks scared out there. He’s lost his control, he and Rich Dubee have been looking for it for the past few months but it's nowhere to be found. He walked in the go-ahead run, with his 3rd walk of the inning, on Sunday and then proceeded to give up a grand-slam to Brian McCann. That was great. He’s also blown his share of leads for Hamels and Lee alike.

            Jonathan Papelbon – B+

He’s only been bad recently but he was lights out for the first 2 months of the season, which earned him an All-Star nod. I knew about the demonstrative antics on the field before he came to the Phillies, and when he’s mowing teams down it’s kind of fun. When he needs to get one guy out and allows 4 straight guys to reach base to blow a 1-run lead for Cole Hamels who had the opportunity to beat the red-hot RA Dickey and give the Phillies the series against the Mets this past week, they are a little tough to take. Just throw strikes and get outs and get off the mound. Take it easy in between pitches bro, obsess much? He’s 17 for 19 in save opportunities and I’d take that again in the second half, although I’ll really bitch about the 2 saves he blows.

Chad Qualls – HAHA

Vance Worley – It’s been an up and down sophomore year. I put him well ahead of Kendrick and Blanton but well behind Hamels and Lee. Last year he was their equal, which nobody really expected this year.

Mike Stutes – Where are you? Never thought I’d say that.

Just for fun report cards:

            Todd McCarthy (TMac) – C –

I don’t like his voice. I don’t like his delivery. I don’t like the fact that he can’t tell when a ball is fouled back or popped up. I don’t like the fact that he thinks fly balls are home runs and home runs are fly balls (At least these are the inflections in his voice). He’s bland. I’m not into it.

            Chris Wheeler (Wheels) – C

I’m so used to Wheels by now I’m almost of no opinion. I think he is knowledgeable and even comes through with some decent anecdotes every now and then. On the other hand, he can ramble on and be a bit of a know it all. He really enjoys praising anybody on the other team who has an ounce of talent and speaks in hushed tones a bit too much for me.

            Gary Matthews (Sarge) – A

Just listen to the man. He is always keeping me on MY TOES! Out there. He can THROW A CRAZY inflection into the MIDDLE OF A SENTENCE!!! With the best of them. His trademark “oh boy” for anything from a Ryan Howard moonshot home run, to a bonehead play by Shane Victorino gets me laughing every time.

            Scott Frantzke and Larry Andersen (LA) – A +

If you have the opportunity to listen to the games on the radio, do yourself a favor and tune to WPHT the Big Talker 1210 AM. LA just straight up tells it like it is. He is a bit of a homer but he’s funny, irreverent, and he gives great perspective as a former goofball relief pitcher. Frantzke is the perfect deadpan foil and is always egging LA on ever so subtly. It’s really a pleasure to listen to, especially when LA disagrees with any of the action. Which has certainly happened more than seasons past this year.

Here we are at the end of this marathon blog session. A lot of things will have to go completely different than they did in the first half for the Phillies to mount a comeback during the dog days of summer. As much as I am disgusted with the current play of this team, you have to have some glimmer of hope with the way this team is constructed that they do have more of a shot than most teams who are 14 games out at the break. A healthy Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Roy Halladay could go a long way if some things start to fall in place in the second half. I’m not saying it’s going to happen any more, but I’m not going to say I’m surprised if the Phillies are streaking in September. Hopefully it’s not too little too late.


2012 Philadelphia Phillies - Mid Season Report - It's Ugly

I have to start this blog entry by telling every one that I’m angry.  I won’t say, “I’ve had it with this team this year.” But I’m as close to saying that as you can be, and we are only through 87 games!! The last place Philadelphia Phillies are 37-50 and 14 games back of the Washington Nationals at the All-Star Break. I’m sitting here trying to come up with a sentence to follow that last one, but I can’t, so let’s move on to why I’m so fed up with the team I live for (sports wise anyway).

While I am pretty upset with this team, I’m nowhere near the level of anger of this guy. Most of my posts this year have been somewhat optimistic and hopeful for the upcoming prospects of this collection of stiffs; that's how they're playing at least. In fact, my last post was entitled “Now or Never” and I explained that the Phillies needed to begin to make a run with at worst 7 wins during their 10 game homestand. They began those 10 games with 2 straight wins, but finished losing 5 out of 8 for a pedestrian at best 5-5 finish.

Oh well, I thought. They are just continuing to tread water but with Chase due back soon, and hopefully Ryan Howard following we can get hot. Well, Chase returned 11 games ago and the Phils have managed to win a miniscule/pathetic/ridiculous 1 game since then.

The losing I can take- Let me rephrase that. I can take .500 baseball from this team. The team with the second highest payroll in baseball. But I CANNOT take losing 10 out of 11 with the team the Phillies have. I CANNOT take watching this team go through the motions and act like this trash they are producing on the field is merely okay.  They don’t seem to understand what’s at stake? Maybe they do and they just don’t care. Did everybody see Hunter Pence barrel over 3rd base coach Juan Samuel on his way to scoring a run?  Then did you watch as Pence and every one around him laughed non-stop about this? Yuck it up fellas. Keep laughing, I know you're laughing all the way to the bank, but not all the way to the win column and certainly not to October. Laughing there would be fine and dandy if the team was doing anything right on the field. But even when the score they look like idiots.

I have watched almost every game during this losing streak and let me tell you it's just bad baseball. It seems like every little intangible that good teams do; (and the Phillies used to be the best at it) the Phils are locks to not get them done.

Man on 3rd less than 2 outs? Forget about it Mayberry (you could insert any name here, but Big John Stud seems to be the best at not getting that run in with less than 2 down) is striking out or popping up.

Men on first and third, our pitcher wants to throw over to first? Just throw it into right field instead of taking the balk because Hector Luna is charging in for a bunt.

Jimmy Rollins has a 3-1 count in a key situati- scratch that he already popped up on the first pitch after the last guy walked on 4 pitches.

In need of a shut down inning after we just took the lead in the 8th? Are you kidding me Bastardo’s walking the leadoff man on 5 pitches. Oh, and that run will score, book it that run will score. Cliff Lee walked a leadoff man in 3 innings in one game. All 3 scored.

Let me think what else?

Is it me or does Hunter Pence ever look like he knows what he’s doing in the outfield? He’s certainly capable of making some plays, but everything he does looks shaky at best. I’ll talk about his hitting later…

Shane Victorino? What can I say? He has to be pretty pissed he came up with that season he had last year instead of this year because he has probably cost himself at least $20 million with the shlop he’s produced at the plate. I’ve never seen a guy look more clueless up there. It’s not just that he doesn’t come through much, it’s that he clearly lacks a plan, a clue, and discipline at least from the left side. Those three things come in handy in the big leagues, and I don’t know if Shane is losing it completely, but can you remember a clutch hit from him this year? I can’t.

I don’t want to get too in depth on the players yet, but these are just some shallow, fairly obvious observations I’ve made throughout the first 3+ months of the season.

So not only do they get the little things wrong, but there just seems to be a lack of, well, Dr. Evil explains it better than I can right here. Mojo may actually be the perfect word for it. The Phillies are lacking chemistry, heart, energy and just a general will to win ball games. It's like they forgot how to win. It just feels like they are going to lose every game. When they got up 2-0 on Sunday against the Braves, I felt like Randy Quaid in Major League 2. “So what they’ll blow it in the 9th.” Annnnd, they blew it in the 7th. If they get down late in a game. Forget it. Every relief pitcher might as well be Mariano Rivera because the Phils don’t mount late game rallies, let alone push a single run across in an extra inning game for once.

High expectations, underachieving, and injuries have certainly played a large role in this first half train wreck. But for the first time since he has been here, I have to place a large amount of blame on our skipper, the formerly infallible, Charlie Manuel.  In the past almost all the decisions Charlie made seemed to turn up golden some how. Continue to bat Pat Burrell 5th, he’ll come around. He did. Raul is oh for his last 32, plug him in there he’ll get hot. He did. Put Wilson Valdez at whatever position you want (even pitcher) and he should come through. He did. Of course, for the serious majority of those games Charlie could pencil in Number 26 in the 3 hole and Number 6 batting cleanup to bail him out more often than not. Nevertheless, he has to do better. They have to do better.

The luck seems to have ran out for Charlie this year. Not only do almost all bullpen decisions seem to backfire (He kept running Chad Qualls out there in close games in the 8th inning before they finally had to mercy cut him or somebody may have jumped out on to the field and actually cut him), but he's even screwed up the rotation a few times. He skipped Cliff Lee’s start after a rain delay  which blew up in his face when he had to have reliever Brian Sanches start a game later that week. This was much to my friend Bob's chagrin. I got a phone call and several serious texts about that decision from Bob alone. His gripes about this were right on when the Phils faced a 5-0 deficit in the first inning they could not recover from in the game Sanches started

They, and by extension we, kept having to watch other teams celebrate walk-off victory after walk-off victory, which did happen back-to-back days on one wonderful weekend in Baltimore. It used to be the Phils streaming out of the dugout to go mob who ever came up big that night. I need more Shane Victorino shaving cream pies in my life. I need Sarge to stand there in the interview and say his favorite line, "Oh boy," with a gigantic grin on everybody's face. It sure isn't as fun watching the other team do it, makes you wonder how the other half lives. 

I’m not sure what the number was, but If I had to guess it was 30 different starting lineups in the first 40 games employed by Charlie. Believe it or not, the Phils played better during that stretch than they have recently but they never seemed to come together this year as a cohesive unit. I blame Charlie for this.

And a side note that deserves its own paragraph. Can somebody please explain to me why Charlie insists on keeping a dent in the back of his hat every night? He puts it just on the top of his head, so it's not pulled tight near his ears, and then he dents the back of it in. He does this every. single. game. Change it up Chuck, it can't hurt.

After all that strife, the Phils were still hanging on and just below .500 when they finally got back one half of their All-Star duo infielders in Chase Utley. The dude homered in his first at bat back. I was at an outdoor happy hour at the time and started telling everybody within ear shot that Chase had just done this while pressing refresh every 5 seconds on my phone. Talk about a goosebump moment. Oh well. They immediately blew the 2-0 lead Chase and Chooch (they went back-to-back, their first of two times this season) had staked them and lost that game en route to losing the first 5 games with Chase on the roster. There’s no sense of urgency with this team, and when Vegas had you picked as the preseason favorite to win the World Series, and just about every writer in baseball picked you to make the postseason and/or win your division, and you’re staring up a 14 game mountain at the All-Star Break, there needs to be some goddamn urgency!!!

You need to do the little things right to win games. Not just some of them, all of them. You need to go first to third on base hits that allow it, and even some that don’t for that matter. Every bunt needs to get down. Shut down innings need to be the norm not the exception. For Christ's Sake does anybody know how a sacrifice fly works on this team? I'd bring back Bobby Abreu just for that ability at this point. Most of all, this whole team needs to pull their collective head’s out of their asses and play the way they are capable of playing (save Chooch). It starts with Manuel motivating them to do this, he should probably go with something like this..  - of course they need to win 1 for a speech like this to happen.

If that happens, instead of seeing games end like this, we might be able to see games end more along these lines.

Okay, I've vented enough about our manager and the team as a whole. In part 2 I will have more statistical and individual based analysis. Or you've had enough and think I'm nuts for dropping 1500 + words for just part 1 of a midseason report, then you can just click here.

"Okay Let's Get 2" - Click for part 2


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Now or Never

We’re reaching the breaking point for a lost season in Philadelphia. In my last post, I said that I hope the next time I write about the Phillies it will be more positive. Believe me when I say, it has only gotten worse, much worse since then. The Phillies are coming off being swept by the Toronto Blue Jays over the weekend in Canada. They blew leads. They never score late. They are on the gurney flat lining as we speak.

I told my father that we did not need to worry until the Phillies got 10 games back of first place. When I said that I was hoping it would happen (if it did) by May and the Phils would begin their climb back. It is almost late June and the only reason the Phils are not 10 GB right now is that the first place Nationals have lost 3 straight to keep the Phils at a daunting 9 GB. The Phils are kicking it in the basement, it’s dark, it smells, and nobody is happy with a 31-37 record.

When the season began question marks loomed over Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. While they are both rehabbing and playing meaningless (meaningful?) games in Florida, the Phillies are floundering searching for answers.

Cliff Lee doesn’t have them. He has started 11 games and has yet to record a win. In the beginning, it was the offense’s fault, but that has been the case so much in his last two starts. Cliff has blown 3 run leads in each of them.

Cole Hamels doesn’t seem to have the answers either. Sure his record looks great at 9-3 but he hasn’t had a quality start since May. He has not been sharp in 4 consecutive starts. In fact, look at his ERA in June. It’s coming in at a whopping 6.75. He was staked a six run lead and almost blew it in Minnesota last week.

I’m working on asking Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Roy Halladay if they have any answers. They can’t be reached.

Charlie Manuel, most of all does not seem to have the answers. But I for one, am not blaming the lovable old man. Manuel has guided the Phillies to 5 consecutive division titles and by all accounts is the best manager the Phillies have ever had. Many fans have been pointing to Charlie’s patchwork lineups, questionable bullpen usage, and overall shoddy play as reasons to be upset with the Phillies record and subsequently Charlie. Other than the reprehensible usage of Chad Qualls in the 8th inning of Cliff Lee’s latest no-decision, I am on Charlie’s side.

Think about it for a minute. Since Charlie has been here he’s had the best power hitter in baseball anchoring his lineup in the 4 spot virtually every single night. The entire lineup has revolved around Howard since 2006. He is the hitter pitchers fear. He is the hitter pitcher’s don’t want to face when they have people on base. Taking that bat out of the lineup has left a gaping hole in not just the lineup, but the Phillies psyche as well. Adding to that mammoth hole is Chase Utley and everything he brings to the table being replaced by the likes of, well currently Mike Fontentot or some other journeyman. That's right, Freddie Galvis is also on the DL, so the Phillies are down to their 3rd string second baseman. Ouch. 

This Phillies team is not built to win in 2015, or 2016. It is built to win the World Series this year. And next year, and maybe the year after that as "The Wheeze Kids II." Charlie is doing everything he can to keep this team afloat while they wait for their three best players to come back, and given his track record you have to let the Phillies play this entire season out before you jump on any “Fire Charlie” bandwagon that I have heard a few grumblings about.

One thing I will fault this team for, and by extension their manager, is their lack of attention to detail. If you watch the games, and I will admit I just have been busier than years past and have not been watching to my normal full extent, but if you watch these games you are watching bad baseball. Hunter Pence is good for generally one bonehead move a game. It’s like he’s playing high school ball out there, do yourself a favor and get a clue mentally Hunter (Don't even get me started on his first pitch swinging). They don’t take extra bases when they can, which almost always leads to them not scoring when they could have. They seem to have forgotten how a sacrifice fly works, because they play dumb with a man on 3rd and less than 2 outs more often than not. They make mistakes in the infield, constantly. It doesn’t help when you have Ty Wiggonton and Hector Luna playing defense at the corners on a Major League level. Those guys are just not capable. But mental errors have plagued this team way more than they should, so Charlie better be letting these guys know about them. Jimmy Rollins needs to lead by example, and Jimmy finally going on a tear could be just the thing this team needs.

In reality, what this team needs to do is take care of business at home. Tonight marks the start of a 10 game home stand and you can use all the clich├ęs you want for this stretch of games. It is now or never time for the Phillies over the next week and a half. They have to win 7 of these ball games (7 of which are against the Rockies and Pirates) in order to get back on track and back in contention.

It has to start tonight. Cole Hamels takes the mound against the Rockies. He needs to go out and be dominant and give this team some confidence it badly needs. The Rockies are not exactly a powerhouse team and the Phillies need to take advantage. It will happen one game at a time, so why not start tonight with their best pitcher at the start of a 10 game home stand?

Last year it seemed like the Phillies maybe lost 5 series all year. This year it seems like they lose almost every series they play. Teams are no longer afraid of them. They are no longer favored to win (almost) every single game. Their rotation has holes. Their lineup has holes. It is time for the proven guys, the guys making a lot of money, to stand up and be the reason the Phils win ball games. To win a couple series in a row. Hell maybe even get a sweep of their own?!? If they don’t play above .500 until the All-Star Break it might be time to pack it in before our big three even return to the diamond. I don’t want that. Charlie doesn’t want that. And all the fans that became fans in 2008 can go back to not being fans again if this is the case because nobody in Philadephia wants to stop loving this team.

Also, just for my sanity. Everybody needs to take Tom Hanks' point of view from the beginning of this clip the next time Cliff Lee takes the mound. Get that man a win for chrrrisssakkkeee!!!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Mired in Mediocrity

It’s been almost a month since my last blog post and I have been struggling to come up with an angle for a story. Since my last post the Phillies have continued to tread water and basically stay mired in mediocrity. Currently, they are playing the worst baseball they have played all season. After losing 5 straight (most in heartbreaking, or at least terrible fashion), they are 28-30 and 6 games back of the first place Washington Nationals.

The biggest news regarding the Phils over the past few weeks has been anything but positive. Roy Halladay started the season in his traditional brilliant fashion, but when he blew a 6-0 lead against the Braves a month or so back every one watching knew that something was up with Doc. He continued to struggle in almost every start (struggling for Doc is allowing more than 2 runs) and finally in a start against the Cardinals two weeks ago he only made it through two innings after giving up 4 runs in the first and was pulled from the game. The silver lining to Doc landing on the DL was that he did not tear a rotator cuff or have an injury that would put him out for the season. Apparently, he just pulled a muscle in his shoulder and he is supposed to be able to join the club sometime after the All-Star Break.

One not-so-funny anecdote from watching the Phillies telecast was the second-to-last game Doc started. It was May 22nd and the Phillies were hosting the Nationals at Citizen’s Bank Park. The Phils took an early 1-0 lead which generally means a W when Big Roy is on the hill. Not-so-much this season. With a 1-0 lead in the 3rd inning the Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro joined Chris Wheeler and Todd McCarthy in the booth to discuss what was currently happening with the litany of role players, pitchers, and superstars the Phillies are paying to sit on the bench. As Amaro started to discuss the guys most fans could care less about (Mike Stutes, Mike Martinez, Jim Thome), Doc started to fall apart. Balls were flying around the ballpark as Amaro was delivering news on the progress of these guys. By the time it was 2-1 Nationals, Amaro was cracking jokes about how he did not need to ever come back to the booth if Halladay was going to perform like this when he was granting interviews.

The not-so-much-fun did not stop there. Wheels was not about to let Amaro slide while on air by giving a report on Mike Stutes. He summoned some gumption and asked the questions everybody else wanted asked. When is Ryan Howard coming back? And while we’re on the subject.. When is Chase Utley coming back? It seemed like as soon as he asked these questi- BOOM! Bryce Harper triple in the gap scores 2 runs. Amaro explained there is no time-table for Ryan Howard and the wound from his surgically repaired Achilles tendon has been the biggest obstacle Howard has faced in his rehab. This is maddeningly frustrating to me. I’m not going to pretend to know much of anything about rehabbing an injury like this, but how the hell does a wound from a surgery get infected on a player who is worth $25 million a year to a ballclub?!? Was nobody monitoring this? How did they let something like that happen? Meanwhile, a sacrifice fly and a home run by Ian Desmond made the score 4-2 Nationals as Amaro explained that there was also no time-table for Chase Utley’s return.

The Utley situation has me the most frustrated. I guess I understand that his injury is degenerative and it is “hard to say” when he can expect to come back, but the secrecy surrounding this guy is nuts to me. The only things you ever seem to hear are that he is getting stronger. He feels better at this time this year than he did last year. He is resuming baseball activities. Blah blah blah. It’s basically, we don’t know anything about when he can come back, and if we did we’re not telling anybody who would possibly tell the media. In this scenario the “we” represents Amaro, Utley, Charlie Manuel, and the rest of the Phillies brass.

At this time, it is nice to report that Howard and Utley are in Clearwater playing extended spring training games. Your guess is as good as mine as to what an extended spring training game is like. I heard Utley is slamming the ball in these games, but then just like recess or some weird little league, somebody else is running the ball out for him? I’m really just guessing on that, but that’s what I’m picturing in my head from the reports I read and hear. I’ll take the good with the bad and just hope he gets back after the All-Star break at the latest.

Meanwhile, Cliff Lee just can’t catch a break. He only missed 3 starts for a brief stint on the DL so he still qualifies to be among the league leaders in the pitching categories. He is 4th in the NL in WHIP, he has a 2.92 ERA, and he is striking out more than a batter per inning. Guess how many wins Cliff has? ZERO! A big fat goose egg! I can’t explain the guttural reaction I have to the putrid offense the Phillies have when Cliff is on the mound. He pitched 10 shutout innings and got a no-decision earlier in the season. GROSS! He was dominant Tuesday night against the Dodgers in a game I attended. The Phillies scored 1 run in the first and then took the rest of the night off on offense. With literally no margin for error Lee gave up a two run double in the 8th that cost the Phillies the game. Cliff Lee is the last person to blame for this loss. He threw 122 pitches, 93 for strikes! And struck out 12 batters. He took the loss to fall to 0-3 for the season. It makes me want to throw up.

Despite all this, let me break down why I think the Phils will still make a run for the division title if they can get everybody back on the field and healthy by the All-Star break. First of all, the team the way it is currently constructed has done a decent enough job by staying in contention. They are in last place, but 6 games is not a ton of ground to make up when we are still in early June. The return of arguably the Phils three best players in Halladay, Howard, and Utley should have a gigantic effect on the entire team. If you think about it, right now the guys who have to carry this ballclub offensively are Hunter Pence, Jimmy Rollins, and Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz. These three have all demonstrated this season and in prior seasons that they are more than capable major league hitters. But with Howard and Utley out of the lineup pitchers know that they really have focus on getting these guys out. If opposing pitchers do, then they can get easier outs with guys like Freddie Galvis, John Mayberry, Ty Wigginton, and whatever other utility non-everyday players the Phils have to play everyday.

When Utley slides into the 3-hole and Howard follows him batting cleanup the pressure on Pence, Rollins, Chooch, and Shane Victorino is alleviated to an extent. This team is obviously playing a bit tight offensively and there’s nothing like getting perennial All-Stars back in your lineup to take the edge off what could be a disastrous season if it continues the way it has in the first few months.

The same is true for the pitching staff. Right now Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are pitching like All-Stars but the Phillies have basically wasted any efforts from Lee by not scoring any runs when he has pitched. I mean literally, here are the total runs scored in Lee starts so far this season for each start: 1, 2, 0, 6, 4, 1, 5, 10, 1. The large totals are deceiving because they did not score those runs until Cliff exited the ball game. They have not given him more than a 2 run lead to work with all season. That leaves Joe Blanton (currently close to the worst pitcher in baseball if you have seen him lately), Kyle Kendrick (“I love to leave my 89 MPH fastball up in the zone over the middle of the plate"), and Vance Worley (just recently back off the DL) to get the Phillies wins. Needless to say, having Doc back in the rotation would give either Kendrick or Blanton the boot (we’ll see if either can get an ERA under 5.00 before Doc gets back to see who wins that coveted 5th starter spot) and the Phils can start being favored in almost every game again.

The first 60 games of the season have not been all bad, however. Chooch has been nothing short of outstanding at the plate. He leads all catchers in batting average and is third in the National League at an astounding .358 clip! A week ago he pinch-hit for Cliff Lee when the Phillies were down 3-1 in the 7th against the Mets. Cliff certainly could have stayed in this game, but Charlie gave Chooch his shot. And boy did he take advantage by smacking a 2 run-game-tying home run to left. The flood gates opened from there and the Phillies won that game 10-6, of course Lee did not get the W. Cole Hamels is tied for the National League in wins with 8 and should be headed to another All-Star game. New closer Jonathan Papelbon has been brilliant in the 9th inning going 15-15 in save opportunities and has a 2.31 ERA. He should join Hamels and Chooch on the All-Star roster.

In summation, I have to refer back to two blog posts ago. There is a lot of waiting going on. We, as fans, are all waiting for the Phillies 3 big stars to return to the lineup so the Phillies can rise to the top of the division for the 6th year in a row. For now, we’re just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Message Sent

For a long time I have been of the thought that a baseball player should be hard-nosed, tough as nails, and just generally a mean sonofabitch. Lenny Dykstra comes to mind as the person who made me think this was the type of ballplayer I liked. Chase Utley has come around and done the same thing, this time with class. What guys like Lenny and Chase do on the field exemplifies the characteristics you need to win baseball games. They send messages to their opponents as well as their teammates by never letting off the gas during a marathon season.

Pitchers used to send messages too. Guys like Bob Gibson and Nolan Ryan sent messages. If a player was out of line or a statement needed to be made Ryan and Gibson never had an issue coming inside with a little chin music or even plunking a guy. Until yesterday I did not think “Hollywood” Cole had that kind of demeanor. I’m glad I was wrong.

For a long time now the Phillies have dominated the Washington Nationals. They have walked all over them to the tune of a 59-31 record since 2007. Every one of those years the Nationals finished in last place and the Phillies finished in first. The scale has been tipped in the Phils favor for some time now. It has showed with Nationals Park often getting referred to as “Citizen’s Bank Park South” because of the legions of Phillies fans that invade the stadium during each trip South.

Last year the Nats acquired Jayson Werth for an ungodly some of money they probably regretted before the ink dried where he signed. Nevertheless, his signing along with a healthy Steven Strasburg, a sometimes healthy Ryan Zimmerman, and of course the Chosen One Bryce Harper’s arrival have given Nats fans a glimmer of hope for the first time since they arrived from Montreal.

If you haven’t heard of Bryce Harper, and since you’re reading an obscure baseball blog I’d like to think you have but anyway let me fill you in a bit. He was the number 1 overall pick by the Nats in June 2010 and has scorched his way through the minor leagues while making the transition from catcher to the outfield. They say the kid has all the tools, charisma, attitude, and talent to be the next big thing. He made his Major League debut on April 28th this year and is hitting over .300 after a week in the majors. In his first few games ESPN would cut away from whatever they had on to show "live look-ins" at his at bats. Its safe to say ESPN is more than a little aroused by the possibility of a new phenom. Oh yeah, dude was born in ‘92. He is 19 years old and living the dream.

So naturally I sent a text out to my buddies that Kyle Kendrick needed to put one in this kids ribs during his first at bat just to make a statement. What kind of a statement is that you ask? It’s the kind of statement that lets Harper and the upstart Nationals know that this team and in particular this player is on the Phillies radar. They realize the talent and the product on the field, and they want to let this team know that they are going to have to knock them from the top of the mountain.

What happened? The Phils pitched to Harper and lost the first two games of the series to fall 5.5 games back of the first place Nationals.  Cole Hamels took the ball on national television for ESPN’s Sunday Night baseball trying to avoid what would be a manhood sapping sweep at the hands of a new division rival.

What happened? Hamels drilled Harper in the small of the back with a fastball in the first inning. Harper winced a bit and trotted down to first base without so much of a look at Hamels. Harper may have come around to score (after stealing home!) but the message was delivered loud and clear. The Phillies seemed to respond to the beaning as well, scoring 9 runs and avoiding an embarrassing loss. Hamels pitched 8 strong innings and the run Harper scored was the only one he allowed. Hamels was then hit in the shin later in the game as possible retaliation but the umpires issued warnings and the situation never escalated further.

Cole talked about it after the game. "I was trying to hit him. I'm not going to deny it. I'm not trying to injure the guy. They're probably not going to like me for it, but I'm not going to say I wasn't trying to do it. I think they understood the message, and they threw it right back. That's the way, and I respect it."

If you want to talk about respect, Hamels just earned a ton more of it from me. Not only did he have the balls to hit Harper without provocation, but he manned up and gave the people what they wanted to hear when he didn’t say “it slipped” with a wink and a smile. You have to love the candor, I know I do.

Unfortunately, the MLB did not think too much of Hamels honesty and they have slapped him with a 5 game suspension for the intentional hit by pitch. If he does not come out and say that you can almost guarantee he doesn’t get suspended.

The Nationals are certainly not too happy about it, that’s for sure.

Let the rivalry begin.

Werth Watch:  In the very same game Jayson Werth broke his wrist diving to catch a Placido Polanco fly ball. It looked awful right away and you could tell it was bad. I feel bad for Werth. He has had wrist issues in the past but hopefully he can come back healthy. I never like to see players go down like that. He is out a minimum of 12 weeks according to team doctors.